The First Annual Inter-House Snowball Fight was off to a good start. Almost half of Gryffindor house was facing a good third of Hufflepuff by the lake. Despite being outnumbered, Hufflepuff was gaining ground steadily. That might have been because several Gryffindors, Ginny included, had turned on their housemates, Harry included.
Harry was just about to throw a snowball at Roger when he was tackled and plunged into the snow.
"Look out, Harry!" came a mischievous voice from above him. Harry recognized it as belonging to a certain red-head, who had "accidentally" hit him three times already. He spat out a mouthful of snow and rolled over.
"Why, thank you, Ginny! If you hadn't got me all covered with snow, I might have been hit with a snowball!" Despite his mocking tone, there was a smile on Harry's face. Ginny grinned back at him, then kissed him quickly on the lips.
"Oi! Get a room, you two!" A snowball smacked into both of them as Dean made himself heard. Harry turned bright red. He had barely got used to snogging Ginny, and doing it in public still embarrassed him.
"Oh, you're in for it now, Dean Thomas!" Ginny called and leapt off Harry to seize ammunition.
Harry laughed and sat up, removing his glasses to wipe the snow off them. He put them on and found himself looking across the lake.
Right at a sailing ship that hadn't been there a minute ago.
The Durmstrang ship that had arrived at the beginning of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry realized.
Durmstrang, which had been seized by the pure-bloods in control of Bulgaria.
"GET INSIDE! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!" Harry jumped to his feet, fumbling inside his robes for his wand. Around him, there was confusion as others spotted the ship and figured out what it meant. The ship was already at the shore, the gangplank extending towards it.
Harry took a combat stance as the mob streamed past him, ready to cover their retreat. He was relieved to find Ron at his right side, Ginny at his left. He wished for Hermione, but she had chosen to remain in the common room to study. Dean dashed over to stand beside Ron, and a ragged line of older students began to form as the first figures walked down the plank to shore.
Harry raised his wand, but hesitated. The attackers weren't casting spells or even moving quickly. What kind of attack is this?
Then the figure in the lead pulled back the hood of his robe, and Harry almost dropped his wand in surprise. It was Viktor Krum.
"Ah, Mr. Krum. I am glad to see you again." From behind Harry, Dumbledore's voice cut through Harry's shock. He must have just arrived.
"Headmaster." Krum bowed slightly to Dumbledore and turned slightly to gesture at the people forming up behind him. Harry noted that they looked tired, and their clothing showed signs of dirt and wear. "I to you present the survivors of the Bulgarian Resistance. The Bulgarian Ministry has made alliance with the Central European Vampire clans, and they have all but destroyed us. The survivors have elected me to lead them, and I am bringing them here."
More figures were moving off the ship – figures lying on stretchers being guided along by wand-bearing figures that looked a little too short to be full adults. Students from Durmstrang, Harry guessed.
"Ve vish to request political asylum."
"I wish to recognize the bravery of the Resistance members among us, who have fought valiantly against the Dark power in their homeland. It is not easy to fight the odds they fought against, nor easy to leave their homes rather than submit."
Dumbledore's voice rang in the Great Hall, across the gathered students and the battered Resistance fighters. Viktor Krum sat at the Head Table, and his followers were scattered at the house tables. Harry noted that few of them had chosen to sit with the Slytherins, despite the fact that some of them had sat there just a few years before. He recognized a few faces from Durmstrang, but could remember none of their names.
Over a dozen members of the Resistance weren't in the Hall at all – they were under Madam Pomfrey's care. A few had staggered to the infirmary under their own power, but most had been carried. Harry had watched the procession make its slow way from the ship to the castle, unsure what to make of this turn of events.
"While I am confident that the Ministry will grant them asylum, I wish to stress that they are welcome here for as long as it takes to make arrangements for them. Hogwarts will always welcome them and any other such heroes."
Viktor had his usual scowl, but some of the others were beginning to look more cheerful. They had come in as a defeated army on their last legs, but the greatest wizard in the world called them heroes.
"We shall need their example in the days ahead. I wish that I could say otherwise, but I fear the only good news I have to give is that we now have the proven veterans of the Resistance at our side. The fight is far from over.
"Over the past several days an increasing number of attacks and probes by Dementors and vampires, apparently acting under Voldemort's orders—" the familiar shiver ran around the room "—have occurred. They have been targeted at major Wizarding locations throughout the British Isles. While certain elements of the Department of Mysteries have been successful in opposing them, the vast majority of the Ministry's strength has been needed to keep them at bay."
Harry knew the "certain elements" he was referring to were the Company of Tebo.
"It seems certain that this is but the buildup to a major attack. I counsel you, nevertheless, to avoid fear. Fear is the weapon of our enemy and serves his ends, not ours." Dumbledore sat down, and Harry slumped in his seat. Dementors. He felt a hand take his, Ginny's familiar warmth against his skin.
"It's finally starting," Hermione said.
"What do you mean?" Harry was puzzled. It had started a long time ago. A year and a half, now, since the Third Task.
Hermione explained, "Really starting, I mean. Voldemort spent a year going after the prophecy—"
Harry winced a little – soon he would have to tell his friends what it said.
"—and half a year skirmishing with the Order of the Phoenix," Hermione continued, "but now he's unleashing his full strength. These aren't isolated attacks. This is the start of his campaign."
"You mean because he's attacking bigger targets?" Ginny asked.
"Yes, and also who he's using to do it with. These aren't his Death Eaters. This is his army," Hermione replied.
"Dementors," Ginny whispered softly. Harry grimaced. She hadn't fainted when first confronted with those monsters, but Harry remembered that day on the Hogwarts Express all too well. She'd taken it worse than anyone except him.
He turned to look at her, remembering the first glimpse of that horrible, withered hand drawing back under black robes. His eyes met hers, green gazing into brown, and he saw the fear and the remembered pain, and –
Cold. It was cold, and silent, and dark.
"Lily! Take Harry…."
A bathroom, a sink, with a snake on one of the taps.
A Hogwarts robe, stained with blood and covered in feathers.
"Stand aside, you silly girl!"
A message on a wall, a message that made her arm twinge as if in some memory of effort.
"Please, not Harry!"
A diary, ink words appearing with no hand to write them.
It was like seeing a movie while hearing the soundtrack from another. Harry, was he Harry? Or was she Ginny? She had always been Ginny. She watched Tom Riddle arise from the diary in the Chamber of Secrets while Voldemort's voice cried out the Killing Curse that had taken Harry's mother. Harry/Ginny realized he/she was seeing the memories the Dementors brought out in them, but melded, twisted together like strands of a cord, into a single nightmare.
Harry blinked and found himself staring at Ginny in the Great Hall. She blinked at him once without a trace of recognition, then her eyes closed, and she slumped sideways against the table. Lavender steadied her reflexively, giving a little cry of surprise and alarm. Harry wondered what was wrong, then his eyes rolled up in his head, and he fell boneless to the floor in a whirl of color and sound.
"Good evening, Minister Fudge."
The tone was light, conversational. Fudge thought nothing unusual about it until he had turned halfway around toward the voice. Then his brain caught up with the situation. He was alone in his house.
Or rather, he had been alone. As he completed his turn, his spine turned to ice. Not ten feet away from him stood You-Know-Who.
Fudge fumbled for his wand, but his nerveless hand, suddenly slick with sweat, couldn't get a grip on the wood.
"No greeting in return, Minister? I had not thought you would have such bad manners. Perhaps a lesson is in order. Crucio!"
Agony. The pain of a thousand knives, of salt poured onto the wounds, pain beyond comprehension…and sudden relief. Fudge shuddered and found himself lying on the floor. How had this happened? I have guards! My house has the finest wards money could buy! I am the best protected man in England!
Voldemort seemed to be reading his mind. "Oh yes, your guards are dead. They were on the watch for magic, but I sent my Nagini to pay them a visit instead. She so enjoys tasting new prey. As for your wards," Voldemort's high-pitched laugh cut through Fudge like an Artic wind, "they were powerful. Very, very powerful. I myself would have taken some time and some pains to destroy them. But do you remember who put up those wards, Minister?"
Fudge focused on the question as the pain drained slowly from his body. Who had set the wards? Some experienced curse-breaker, he remembered that much.
Then it hit him, and he heard You-Know-Who laugh again.
"Yes, your good friend, the generous Lucius, recommended him to you. Wasn't that good of him? So concerned he was two years ago, when he insisted you needed the very best if you were going to hold off Dumbledore?"
Fudge cursed himself. How could I have forgotten? It slowly dawned on him that it was not only his house the curse-breaker had worked on, but also…. Voldemort spoke again, breaking his chain of thought.
"Some of my followers thought you should be disposed of at once, Minister. But I was wiser. Why remove a fool from a position where a wise man might cause me trouble? Especially when I already had the perfect lever in place to move the fool to do whatever I wished? Even use him to weaken and humiliate my enemies? But in the end, perhaps they were right. You were too much of a fool even to succeed against them.
"And now, you have brought those mudbloods of the Company of Tebo – oh yes, I know all about them and their little toys – into the Department of Mysteries, giving them resources enough to prove an annoyance to me." Voldemort sighed dramatically. "It is vexing. Little bees, buzzing around me, dying as they sting," his voice became cold and filled with power as he continued, "just as you shall die.
To be continued...
Author's Note: OK, I would like everybody to remember that the FIRST canon character I killed off in this story was Fudge. Remember that. "Its alright, he killed Fudge first.